Death and the Civil War Directed by Ric Burns (PBS) 2012 Film review This PBS documentary explores the unprecedented level of casualties during the US Civil War and its effect on future federal and military policy. The Civil War was … Continue reading
Did Slavery Really Cause the Civil War?
Mark Stoler PhD
A Skeptic’s Look at American History (2012)
This lecture is the eighth in the Kanopy American History course The Skeptic’s Guide to American History. My initial reaction is that Stoler probably isn’t nearly skeptical enough. The South, which still refers to the Civil War as the War Between the States, sees states rights as the primary cause of the war.
Unfortunately Stoler doesn’t really resolve this controversy. However he rightly points out that the immediate cause for Lincoln’s declaration of war was not to end slavery, but to “preserve the union.”
However he never addresses why the union needed to be preserved, ie how did preserving the union protect the democratic interests of the American people? I personally suspect that “preserving the union,” mainly protected the interests of the merchants, bankers and early industrialists, just as preserving the European Union protects the interests of merchants, bankers and industrialists. Similar ultra-national unions will always reduce the input ordinary people have into major decisions that affect their lives.
Stoler begins by talking about the collapse of the Whig Party in the 1850s following the passage of the deeply unpopular Kansas-Nebraska Act. This law, which created the states of Kansas and Nebraska. deferred the decision to the states whether to allow slavery or not. From the 1850s on, the newly created Republican Party, which committed to end slavery everywhere, would be America’s second major party.
Although Lincoln, a Republican, only received 39.8% of the popular vote in 1860, his strong support in northern states mean he won a majority of the electoral college. Lincoln campaigned on a platform of allowing slavery to continue in states where it was legal but preventing its spread to western states as they joined the Union.
Stoler also reminds us that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation (freeing slaves in the states that had seceded) didn’t take effect until January 1883 and didn’t free slaves in any of the Union states.*
By early February 1861 (a month before Lincoln’s inauguration), seven states (Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina) had seceded.
After Union forces fired on Fort Sumter in South Carolina (April 1861), four border states (North Carolina, Virginia, Arkansas and Tennessee) also seceded. Four slave states (Delaware, Maryland, Missouri, and Kentucky) remained in the Union.
Stoler denies that conflict over states rights caused the war, arguing that various Northern states also lobbied for for states rights at different times (eg when they opposed the war the US launched against Mexico in 1846). I fail to see the logic of this argument. Just because the North agitates strongly for states rights over specific issues doesn’t mean the South can’t do so as well.
He also denies that a profound difference in their respective economies (with the South being primarily agrarian and the North being mainly industrial) was the root cause of the war. He argues this difference had been present since colonial times without leading to war.
He also poo-poos the distinct difference their respective cultures (with the South possessing an aristocratic planter class not present in the North) as the main cause of war. Here he points out that the North was just as racist as the South and hardly more democratic for the average worker.
*In Stoler’s view, Lincoln’s main goal with the Emancipation Proclamation was to buoy up Northern support for the war, despite massive numbers of casualties, and to open the Union army to extremely motivated ex-slaves. In his next lecture he also identifies dissuading the UK (where the population strongly opposed slavery) from entering the Civil War on the Southern side as a primary motivation.
The series can be viewed free on Kanopy.
Congo My Precious
Directed by Anastasia Trofimova (2017)
This documentary exposes the shocking reality that the standard of living in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DAR) hasn’t improved since it was the personal property of Belgian King Leopold II.
As of 1960, when Congo first declared independence, the country provides 60% of the world’s uranium, 70% of its cobalt, 65% of its coltan (essential for manufacturing cellphones, laptops and nuclear reactors), 70% of its industrial diamonds, as well as substantial quantities of cassiterite and gold.
Following independence, the CIA assassinated the country’s first president Patrice Lamumba, and Belgium, determined to protect its monopoly on the country’s precious minerals, launched a four-year mercenary war.
Between 1967-83, the country enjoyed a brief period of relative wealth when CIA-installed dictator Mobutu Seko Sese was on good terms with the US and Britain. In 1973, he made a UN speech condemning Western powers for brutally exploiting his country for its mineral wealth. In response, the West cut off all aid to Zaire (DAR was known as Zaire between 1971-97). In 1997, the US supported a joint Kenyan/Rwandan effort to invade DAR and remove Mobutu from power.
DAR has been in a continuous state of civil war ever since. Both the CIA and British intelligence provide weapons and other aid to the rebel groups that control access to important mines. See The CIA and the Congo’s 20-year Civil War
Exporters pay mineworkers $6/kg for coltan and cassiterite (which is insufficient to cover their living expenses). Which they on-sell to Western markets to for $120/kg.
The Western-sponsored civil war (efforts to disarm various rebel groups are ongoing – see DR Congo Ituri Rebels Disarmament), makes it virtually impossible for workers to organizer for better pay.
History of the World Part 7 – The Age of Industry
This second-to-last focuses on the role of the Western industrial revolution in facilitating wholesale colonization of the Third World: British opium wars launched against China to make the world safe for western industrial capitalism, the US Civil War, Japan’s war against their traditional Samurai class, and World War I.
In the middle of the episode, the filmmakers take a break from war to depict the brutal enslavement of the Congo (as his personal fiefdom) by Belgian King Leopold II and to re-enact the invention of the steam engine and railroad, as well as Leo Tolstoy’s efforts to educate and free his serfs.
Part 7 begins with the brutal opium wars the UK used to force China to open up to western trade. At the beginning of the 19th century, a massive British demand for tea was draining their treasury of the silver European countries had expropriated from South America. However because China refused to import western goods, the British had no legal way to get this silver back.
They eventually fell back illegal opium smuggling to pry open the Chinese import market. The result was an estimated 17 million Chinese opium addicts by 1839. The emperor’s clampdown on smuggling led to a British declaration of war. China’s primitive wooden warships were no match for the gunships born of Britain’s industrial revolution. After two wars, the peace treaty the UK imposed ceded Hong Kong to British control and forced China to open all their markets to western trade.
Modern weaponry would also give the industrialized North a clear advantage over the agricultural South in a Civil War resulting that killed over 650,000.
When Japan refused to open their country to international trade, it was US warships that fired on their capitol in 1853. When Japan modernized their military with Western weapons and tens of thousands of new recruits, their elite Samurai class, solely responsible for centuries for the emperor’s protection, rebelled. In 1877 an army of 40,000 Samurai faced certain defeat against a modern military force with at least twice as many men and Western military hardware.
The segment about Leopold II’s personal conquest of the Congo (and its rich mineral and human resources) under the cover of a “humanitarian charity” is well worth watching. Likewise the one about German foreign minister Arthur Zimmermann’s efforts to form a military alliance with Mexico during World War I – to help them reclaim territory the US stole during the US-Mexican War (1846-1848).
Otherwise the openly anti-German propaganda in the final segment totally obscures the real origins of World War I, as revealed by recently declassified British and US documents. This is covered really well in James Corbett’s 2018 documentary The World War I Conspiracy:. The World War I Conspiracy
Trail of the Spider: A Passage Through Limbo
Directed by Anja Krschner and David Panos (2008)
Trail of the Spider is a short feature film in which the suppressed racial history of the American West becomes a metaphor for the racial landscape of East London in the grips of property developers.
The somewhat surreal plot takes place in 1870, at the end of the Civil War and “Indian Wars.” the last days of the “unassigned lands.”
Instead of the Lone Ranger, the hero is Man With No Name, an African American Buffalo Solder* who changes sides and fights for the oppressed instead of the US government.
*The original “Buffalo Soldiers” were members of the 10th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army, formed on September 21, 1866, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. This nickname was given to the Negro Cavalry by the Native American tribes they fought.
The Protestant Revolution – Part 1 The Politics of Belief
More stuff I should have learned in school. Either I was absent that day or I wasn’t paying attention. .
In this documentary historian Richard Jones-Nerzic explores the major political upheaval brought about by the 1517 Protestant Reformation, led by German monk Martin Luther. The film asserts Luther’s willingness to challenge the authority and corruption of the Catholic church unleashed a flood of revolutionary ideas, as well as political upheaval that lasted centuries.
At the time of the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church had immense political power, with authority to levy taxes, raise armies and wage war. Moreover there was already growing dissent in the Church about the sale of indulgences. For a price, anyone could purchase a guarantee of salvation for themselves, family members and even dead people.
In 1521, Luther was hauled before Holy Roman Emperor Charles, V, declared a heretic and banned from the Holy Roman Empire. Sheltered by a sympathetic prince, he grew a beard, Luther disguised himself as Squire George and spent his time translating the New Testament into German. At the time, the Church only allowed the Bible to be printed in Latin, Green or Hebrew. They maintained ordinary parishioners could only understand scripture if a priest interpreted it for them. Luther also made use of the newly invented printing press to churn out pamphlets promulgating his views.
Buoyed by these ideas, as well as heavy taxes and bad harvests, in 1524 German peasants staged a revolt, the largest in Europe prior to the French Revolution.
Jones-Nerzic goes on to trace Henry VIII’s split from Rome in 1538, followed by the Scottish Puritans, under John Knox, breaking from the Church of England in 1630. In 1642, the split would culminate in the English civil war led by Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell.
The film then explores the close links between the radical idealism (emphasizing equality and justice) of the nonconformist Protestant movement and Britain’s Socialist Labour Party, formed in 1900. It makes the point that the founders of Britain’s Labour Party came to socialism via “the Methodist chapels of Yorkshire and Wales,” rather than Marxism.
Directed by Mark Patrick George and Dana Williams (2016)
This documentary concerns the white supremacist-linked Civil War monuments and reenactments that continue to dominate life in the Southern US. After touring the South for four years, the filmmakers identified 706 public monuments or statutes glorifying leaders of the Southern Confederacy, as well as 109 schools, 80 counties and ten military bases named after Confederacy heroes. Many Southern cities have streets named after prominent Ku Klux Klan leaders.
Most of the film focuses on Civil War reenactments that occur throughout the South. The reenactment movement developed during the sixties and seventies, in reaction to federal school integration laws.
In addition to interviewing numerous reenactors, the filmmakers interview national park rangers, local officials, Civil War historians and Black residents. The latter deeply resent the use of their tax dollars to glorify what they view as an increasingly white supremacist agenda.
Although most reenactors cite “educating younger generations about history” as their chief motivation for participating in Civil War reenactments, the latter portray a version of history that is more mythological than factual. Not only do they deny that the Civil War had anything to do with slavery,** but they totally erase the role of over 200,000 slaves who abandoned their plantations to fight for the Union Army and Navy.
Moreover it’s also clear that recruiting new members for overtly and covertly white supremacist “heritage” groups is another major goal of these reenactment festivals. One organization, the League of the South, actively promulgates the Great Replacement*** rhetoric espoused by white right terrorists like Dylan Roof and Brenton Tarrant.
The League of the South has its own paramilitary group actively working towards Southern secession from the US.
*Blacks comprise 30% of the population of Lake City Florida, host to the annual Olustee Reenactment.
*Most reenactors give “states rights” and “economic differences” as the true cause of the “War of Northern Aggression.”
**The Great Replacement claims there is a conspiracy to exterminate the white population of Europe and the North America by replacing them with people of color.
The Lust for Libya: How a Nation Was Torn Apart Part 2
Al Jazeera (2018)
Part 2 of Lust for Libya links the 2011 “uprisings” in Libya to the Arab Spring uprisings elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa.
It makes no mention of the CIA role in fomenting and arming the rebellion in Libya, along with the more peaceful 2001 Arab Spring “color revolutions.” See The Arab Spring: Made in the USA
I was surprised to learn the 2011 NATO bombing campaign was spearheaded by French president Nicolas Sarkozy (whose 2007 election campaign was financed by Gaddafi) and former UK prime minister David Cameron. It was they who approached the Obama administration as a third partner.
In total NATO bombers embarked on 20,000 sorties and 67,000 total bombings to virtually destroy Libya’s civilian infrastructure. With US intelligence support, rebel fighters captured, tortured and executed Gaddafi as he was fleeing Tripoli. With his demise, Libya became a failed state as it descended into a civil war between rival armed militias.
Libya’s National Oil Company and its central bank continued to operate, and for some bizarre reason the new de facto government (National Transition Council) granted a salary to all past and present militia fighters – a move that clearly fuels the ongoing war.
Libya has held a number of parliamentary elections since 2011, but none has been able to control the militias or effectively rebuild state institutions.
In 2015, the UN created the government of National Accord, which meets in Tripoli, although any government institutions that continue to operate are run by militias. A CIA-linked exile General Khalifa Hafter has created a rival government run by the Libyan National Army and which has seized the oil ports and all oil production.
France, the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are all supplying Hafter with weapons, in open violation of a UN arms embargo. Italy backs the Government of National Accord because they control natural gas resources Italy depends on – and, to some extent, the flow of African refugees departing from Libya for Italy.
Part 2 begins at 47 minutes.
The Lust for Libya: How a Nation Was Torn Apart
Al Jazeera (2018)
This is a two part documentary about the 2011 US/UN invasion of Libya, which triggered its descent into civil war.
Part 1 is about pre-independence Libya and Muamar Gaddafi’s rise to power during the 1969 revolution. Prior to Gaddafi’s 2011 overthrow, Libya had no history as an independent state. It was continuously occupied from ancient times, by Greeks, Romans, Ottomans, Italians and eventually a French/British and a British/US consortium.
Inspired by the pan-Arab movement started by Egyptian president Gamal Nasser, in 1969 Gaddafi led a successful revolution to oust the pro-US government. He went on to close the US/UK military bases and nationalize their oil companies and the Italian banks that controlled Libya’s economy.
With the 1973 oil embargo, the value of Libya’s oil doubled overnight. Gaddafi used the country’s new found wealth to rapidly build up Libya’s decaying infrastructure, as well as to provide free health care, housing and education (through university) for all residents.
Following Nasser’s death in 1970, Gaddafi sought to enshrine himself as the “man of the masses” who would unite the Arab world. In this role, he supported numerous international liberation struggle, including the Irish Republican Army, the African National Congress and the Palestinian Liberation Organization. He also developed a bizarre and grandiose habit of claiming responsibility for terrorist bombings (including CIA/NATO Operation Gladio false flag bombings*).
In 1973 he revoked the Libyan constitution and ruled independent decree. Although he established thousands of Jamahiriya (people’s committees), they had no real power independent of the Libyan military. The analysts interviewed here view Gaddafi as a benevolent dictator who was genuinely concerned about the Libyan people but lacked any education or training in setting up democratic institutions of power.
Worried a prolonged Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) would hinder US access to Middle East Oil, the US would launch its first covert regime change operations against Gaddaffi in 1981. These included a 1981 assassination attempt (by bombing his palace) in 1981, as well as an effort to frame Libya for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am passenger jet over Lockerbie Scotland.
The incident would lead to UN sanctions against Libya from 1992 until 2003, when Gaddafi signed an agreement he would end his nuclear program, assume financial responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and assist the CIA in fighting global terrorism.
*Operation Gladio is the code name for a CIA/NATO backed paramilitary network that carried out thousands of false flag terrorist operations in Cold War Europe. The goal of these operations was to justify repressive government legislation against grassroots anti-capitalist organizers. It was exposed in a 1992 BBC documentary. See 1965-75: The Decade that Nearly Dismantled Capitalism
War is a Lie
By David Swanson
Just World Books (2016)
In War is a Lie, author David Swanson presents extensive historical evidence that the US has never been a democratic republic – that this is a carefully crafted fairy tale the ruling elite has been telling us since the late 18th century. He also demolishes the myth that warfare is deeply ingrained in human nature. Ninety-eight percent of people are deeply opposed to killing and warfare and require extensive brainwashing to commit to either. Although the species homo sapiens is 60,000 – 1000,000 years old, they have only engaged in war for the last 10,000 years. Many human civilizations (including the people of the Arctic, Northeast Mexico, Australia and Nevada’s Great Basin) had no experience of war prior to contact with Europeans. Among the more astonishing facts Swanson reveals is that 80% of the US troops drafted into World War II declined to kill enemy troops.
Starting with the Revolutionary War, War is a Lie is full of delightful little factoids that are omitted from high school and college US history courses.
Among the high points:
The two real goals of the US War of Independence were to 1) remove the King’s representatives from positions of power in North America and replace them with colonial merchants and bankers and 2) to overturn the British ban on western expansion (via the slaughter of indigenous tribes). The Continental Army consisted mainly of poor farmers who were forcibly conscripted, brutally mistreated and rarely paid (even though General Washington was the richest man in the colonies. During and after the war, numerous “democratic reforms” were enacted to motivate these the “recruits, with all being promptly nullified.
War of 1812
Contrary to what we’re taught in school, the US started the War of 1812, with the intention of invading and occupying Canada. They lost this war.
Mexican-American War (1846-48)
Another war about western expansion that resulted in the US annexation of Texas, California, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and parts of Colorado and Oregon. Many Irish and other European immigrants fought for Mexico.
Swanson maintains the Civil War was also about western expansion and whether the North or South would control the new western territories. Swanson stresses that Lincoln could have easily freed the slaves without launching a war (other countries did so). The Emancipation Proclamation was issued well after the war started, as public sentiment turned against the war due to high casualties. Swanson reminds us that the Proclamation only applied to states that had seceded – slavery remained legal in Union states.
World War II
Swanson details the deliberate Wall Street strategy of arming Hitler to neutralize the Soviets, highlighting orders US pilots received not to bomb German munitions factories owned by Americans. He also writes at length about the Nazi eugenics experiments that originating in the US under the guidance of Rockefeller, Carnegie and Harrison. I was intrigued to learne the Rockefeller Foundation funded Josef Mengele’s experiments on Jewish prisoners. Swanson attributes Roosevelt’s eagerness to enter World War II to increasing working class militancy in the US (which the compulsory draft ended) and fears of full blown insurrection. He also discusses numerous efforts Hitler made (as late as 1940) to negotiate a peace settlement with the allies – which they rebuffed.